Hvar Artist Retreat 2016 – a great week of painting!

This September, a group of artists from California joined me for a week’s sketching and painting in some of my favourite locations around Hvar. And as we usually do on these occasions, we explored some of the excellent local wines (very important, that!) and the rich cultural heritage that makes this island so special. The theme each day took us to somewhere a little bit different, and provided plenty of material for what will be several month’s worth of painting back in our studios!


We began the week in Vrboska, where everyone was staying, with a sunrise walk along the waterfront to catch the early morning reflections with our cameras. Unfortunately Monday morning was rather more overcast than I would have liked, but any other day later in the week would offer absolutely perfect lighting for those up and about early! After breakfast, we reconvened at the Fishermen’s Museum, where guide Mario gave us a fascinating insight into living here in times gone by. Meanwhile, along the waterfront, the traditional wooden boats were being prepared to sail round to Stari Grad for the upcoming Days in the Bay festival. Taking in the views from the battlements of the church-fortress of Sv Marija, we also visited the parish church of Sv Lovran, thanks to Pero for opening it specially for us. Having set the scene, we all retired to Konoba Lem for a group lunch, and afterwards the artists settled down to paint the harbour view. By now, the weather was looking increasingly threatening. The waterproof awning at Lem’s was perfect cover, at least it was once the waiters managed to unroll the last section – with the youngest guy being sent up above to unsnag the cables. And so we painted a wet afternoon in Vrboska, to accompanying lightning flashes and rumblings of thunder! Talk about wet-in-wet washes! Later that afternoon found us at the Carić winery for a yummy wine and chocolate pairing – what a great idea!

Day 2 took us to Stari Grad, Hvar’s “old town” which is celebrating its 2,400th birthday this year. Our paintsite was the lovely cloistered fishpool and renaissance garden at Tvrdalj, the fortified summer residence of Petar Hektorović, who lived here in the 16th century. To get there, we meandered our way happily through the old streets and squares, taking in the character and resetting our clocks to an earlier age. Our painting session was enlivened at one point by a chatty group from a cruise boat, one of whom turned out to be an artist herself and contact details were exchanged! At one o’clock we packed up and removed to a nearby restaurant for lunch. Kod Barba Luke was originally chosen for its proximity to Tvrdalj and effective shade/rain protection if necessary, but our research last week also showed it to be a lovely friendly place with superb food. We have a new favourite restaurant in Stari Grad – the homemade fish ravioli are yummy, and the wild orange torte sublime! After lunch, we discovered that the Biankini Palace museum was firmly closed, having specifically told me they would be open all day Tuesday. Ah well, in that case, we had time for a leisurely stroll up to the monastery and take more photos of Stari Grad. On the way home, half of us stopped at the trim on the Stari Grad plain, and half of us missed it – oops! Later that day found us in Vrbanj, enjoying the wines at the Plančić brothers’ winery. The Pharos Reserva was especially popular!

Day 3 and it’s off up to Humac for an exploration of rural Hvar. This seasonal village dates from the 17th century, though parts are even earlier. As it was a cloudy day (and therefore not suitable for the beach) there were a surprising number of tourists who had also made the trip. Whereas one week before, in 90 degree heat, I had had the village almost entirely to myself! Some of us did a mini hike and sketch up to the panoramic teleskop, where we painted the views. Others preferred to sit amongst the buildings in Humac, taking photos and painting. Our lunch was at Konoba Humac, which was by now pretty busy, with Keti doing her best to keep up with orders. Our outside table on the terrace was reserved and ready for us – though by the end of the meal we had to retreat inside when the rains started up again!

On Day 4 we had a change of pace as we headed off to the big city of Hvar. Starting at the top, we drove  up to Fortica to take in the famous views, before heading for the main piazza. This is always more of a sightseeing day than for actual painting, and a chance for everyone to explore in whichever way they saw fit. For several of us, it was a shopping opportunity with so many lovely artisan galleries and boutiques to browse! Lunch at the ever-wonderful Kod Kapetana restaurant was a very tasty fish platter to share! And afterwards, us artists rearranged the tables so we could sit and paint the view across the busy harbour. Someone took a photo of us as we set up, and  only when we saw the photo did we realize our waiter was posing behind us! I guess he was hoping we might paint him! The partners set off to Vunetovo to taste the beer, and we settled down for an hour or so to filter all the details and activity on to paper. Not an easy task!!

Day 5 was a real treat spent in the very special studio of local artist Marinka. It was a time to catch up on painting, working on whatever we wanted. For once I chose to take my oil paints, the first time I’ve ever taken them out and about for plein air. Others were working on the mini-paintings for the swap, or chose a view in the garden. As ever, it was a lovely peaceful day in a very creative space. Marinka herself shared her own art and experiences, including the very moving and powerful War and Peace series. Her art for the afternoon was, of course, our dinner of very tasty stuffed peppers! Later in the evening, a group of us headed into Stari Grad for the Days in the Bay festival. Lined up along the riva was a wonderful array of traditional wooden boats with the lanteen sails. I spotted our own Vrboska boats, as well as some from Komiža on Vis, Murter, Krk, and a reconstruction of the 9th century Condura Croatica from Nin – rowed at a fast pace by a crew of girls! The klapa and folk concert was good, but rather distorted by the over-loud sound system. Lots of interesting nautical-themed displays, and then one-by-one the boats drifted out into the darkness of the harbour, while spotlights from the shore scanned across and music played. It was a truly magical sight! To end with, we came across an informal group at Cafe Casper, enjoying a round of beers and singing away! It’s the best way to enjoy the local klapa singing, and we sat for a while to listen, before reluctantly dragging ourselves away.

Day 6 was our vineyards and villages day. We artists headed up to Svirče in the heart of  Hvar’s wine country where we sketched and painted around a terraced vineyard, with views of red-tiled roofs and hilltop villages. The old path leading from Svirče to the vineyards always looks to me like it should have a donkey trekking up there to complete the picture! Our lunch stop was at the Bratanić konoba in Vrbanj, a fine example of a traditional working and social space. It’s where you store your tools, make your wine and olive oil, and where you store the barrels. Miki Bratanić was on hand to tell us stories of the konoba, as we enjoyed the wonderful fresh food and very fine homemade wine. After a short break, in the late afternoon it was up to Pitve for some painting on a quiet terrace at Dvor Duboković as the sun was setting. We took the opportunity to swap our mini-paintings before heading to our table for dinner. Unfortunately the expected musicians would not be joining us, something about a late night in Stari Grad the night before! Well, it was good we heard them there!! The traditional peka was great, as ever, though again we were again interrupted by rain and had to adjourn to a table inside!

Our final day was at Soline beach, sitting in the shade of the pines, painting away. The morning was a touch overcast and only a few folks were there. The water was fine for swimming, and a some of us went in for a dip – it has to be done at least once! As we had lunch in the cafe, the sun grew brighter and more people showed up. I really think we had the best of the day! The afternoon was left for packing and departure preparation, and we got together again for a final group dinner on the patio with pizza from Škojić pizzeria next door and shared salads and wines. What a lovely way to round off the week! We’d had a lot of fun with a great bunch of people, both artists and their partners and very sorry to see them all leave!